Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stormy Weather

Saw this sign today at the Detroit Zoo. It seems to me that by the time any Spanish- speaking folks get done reading the sign either it will be too late or the storm will be over.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In Defense of Bees

A great slander is frequently committed in our great nation and I'm here to do my part in clearing the name of an unfairly maligned species.
Namely, whenever anyone is stung by an insect and said insect is yellow & black, it is almost invariably said that the victim was stung by "a bee".
Most of the time, this is the result of mistaken identity and the poor bee is innocent. I would wager that in most cases, the offending insect is a yellow jacket. (Pictured below.)

Although I'm not exactly a master of the apiary sciences, I feel I can speak with a degree of authority on this subject since my father raised honeybees for years. I was surrounded by beehives and their residents flew around me constantly. Honey bees are relatively docile (unless you threaten the queen, in which case all bets are off). In all those years, I was stung by bees precisely ZERO times. Yellow jackets, however, have probably stung me about a dozen times.
(See below for a picture of a honeybee for comparison.)

Please note the duller coloration and somewhat "fuzzy" look to the thorax.

So next time you get stung, please don't unfairly blame a bee. Chances are a bee is not to blame.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rand Paul's America

Flint, MI. The year 2018…

The local outlet of the seafood restaurant chain Red Flounder has announced a new dining option made possible by the repeal of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law, recently terminated after pressure was placed on Congress by President Rand Paul, had prevented discrimination based on race by privately-owned places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, hotels and theatres.

This new experimental dining arrangement will be called “White Wednesdays", during which only white patrons will be served in the restaurant on that day.

Restaurant manager Biff Fratboy explained the new program.

“We had done some market research and focus group studies which found some interesting opportunities for expanding our business. Ironically, our great success among the African-American community was preventing expansion among the white customer base,” Fratboy said. “We had comments that many potential white customers referred to our restaurant as ‘Black Flounder’ and were less likely to eat here because of that. We have instituted ‘White Wednesdays’ in an attempt to broaden our appeal to that consumer segment.”

Fratboy was careful to counter charges that the White Wednesday program, while now legal, could be perceived as racist.

“Red Flounder abhors racism in all its forms,” explained Fratboy. “The White Wednesday program isn’t racist; it is simply a means by which Red Flounder can better accommodate those customers who have expressed a preference for a more homogeneous dining experience. Red Flounder is merely exercising its liberty as a privately-owned company to better serve the needs of its customers in a capitalist economy. If our business declines on White Wednesdays, we will stop having them, since continuing it in that circumstance would hurt our bottom line. It’s the free market in action! Who could be against THAT? Socialists, perhaps?”

Fratboy explained that Red Flounder would continue to serve its non-white customers: “Red Flounder is committed to serving the seafood needs of our non-white customers. They are welcome to eat in our establishment from Thursday through Tuesday. In addition, we are spending $30,000 to install a special drive-through window which will serve all races on Wednesdays. That’s right! We’re spending $30,000 in order to specially serve our non-white customers! Does that sound like something a racist company would do?”

Fratboy noted that the program, if successful, may be expanded.

“We might even pay tribute to the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King for a society based on racial unity by serving blacks only on the King Holiday,” said Fratboy.

“Provided King Day doesn’t fall on a Wednesday, of course.”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reality Check

We were eating at Taco Bell this afternoon. The PA system started playing the song "Come Dancing" by The Kinks. For those of you who might not be too familiar with the song, it's a about an old ballroom dance hall and the music is done in a style reminiscent of that era.
"Is that an old song?" asked my 12-year-old daughter.
"No," replied my wife. "It was done to sound old, but it's actually from the 1980's."
"The 1980's!" said my daughter, incredulous. "But that IS old!"


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Zen... or Something Like It

For about five minutes early this evening, I experienced something wonderful. I had just finished grilling out for the first time this year. I was hot and sort of tired, so I put on the headphones of my MP3 player, turned on the fan and plopped myself down on the bed.

The day was warm and the skies blue and beautiful. The cool air from the fan gently caressed me. The song on the MP3 player (“Secret Friend” by Paul McCartney) fit the mood, as it was one of his less “serious” songs… it’s essentially Sir Paul having a bit of fun in the studio.

For a few minutes, I experienced what I imagine those who quest for Nirvana are seeking. My thoughts ceased. My experiences no longer were translated into words which I then thought about. The sensory experiences seemed to bypass the words and thoughts and plugged themselves directly into my consciousness. It was bliss.

I now think I know why people have trouble explaining Zen. It is born of direct experience. Words can’t really explain it because it can only “happen” when you put the words away. When it comes to Zen, words simply clog things up. Then, when you later try to explain it, you find yourself retroactively trying to – in a metaphorical sense - duct tape words onto the experience but the tape won’t stick. And this sloppy mess of words just makes you seem like a babbling idiot. Like, f’rinstance, this stuff I just wrote.

No, I haven’t seen “god”. I’m still the same hardcore atheist I’ve always been. And I wouldn’t describe it as a “spiritual” experience, either. To me, that mushy word implies finding something outside one’s experience. But what I felt was the direct opposite… an “enhanced” experience of reality. It was the precise opposite of what I expected Zen to be. Instead of “other-worldly” it was more “hyper-worldly”… as though the physical world was more “real” than usual.

I’m really digging myself into a hole, here, aren’t I?

Forget all the shit I wrote above. Let’s just say I plopped myself on the bed for about five minutes and it was really nice, okay? Okay.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reaping the Whirlwind

I was born on a muggy July morning in Flint, Michigan back in 1962. As the day of my birth drew to a close, the skies darkened and a thunderstorm approached. This storm was so severe the curtains blew into the room at a 90-degree angle to the windows. The nurses started talking about evacuating some of the patients, but before they could make a firm decision in that regard, the storm had blown through.

If my life were a work of fiction, this would have been a perfect bit of foreshadowing. It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that I would have a lifelong fascination with severe weather in general and with tornadoes in particular. Perhaps some of the excitement was picked up from the adults around me. The Beecher Tornado, the last single tornado to kill over 100 people in the United States, was still fresh in their memories. When there was a tornado watch or warning, I could sense the adults getting extra wary, which, for a young child, is sort of exhilarating.
I also remember the annual springtime ritual of seeing those tornado preparedness films in elementary school. I loved every somber, serious, cheesy second of them!

Despite my desire to see a tornado, I have been unsuccessful in that regard. I came close once on a canoe trip on the Rifle River in the early 1980’s. The sky got hellaciously dark and a powerful gust front whipped through snapping fully grown trees like dominoes. I didn’t see a tornado, though I later found out one was sighted mere miles from my location.
Another time, fittingly on my birthday, there was a severe storm outbreak in Michigan the likes of which occurs “once every 500 years” according to one news story. But did I see anything? Of course not!
Then, a couple years ago, nature seemingly extended its middle finger my way when an EF-2 tornado damaged the house in which I grew up. But could it have happened in all the years I lived there? NOOOOO!

I would love to go on one of those storm chasing tours. Some have warned me they might actually be rather dull. I know, however, that I would thrive on it. The thought of driving for hours through places like Nebraska, rather than discouraging me, makes the entire scenario all the more tempting. For me, stopping for a pizza in, say, Tulsa while monitoring the latest convective outlook smacks of true Americana. I know I would revel in every minute of it. What some would find boring, I would find delightful. And to see an actual tornado would be an excellent payoff. (Actually, I would enjoy the experience even if I didn’t see a tornado, but let’s face it; I’d still like to have the image of a whirlwind tickle my corneas before I shed this mortal coil.)

I wouldn’t, though, want “my” tornado I see do any real damage. The thought of it destroying lives or property would be a downer, despite its magnificence. If it could maybe just toss around a few random tumbleweeds in an empty field, I’d be happy.

Maybe someday…

Friday, May 14, 2010

Shameless, Unsolicited, Annoying (but Unapologetic) Parental Bragging

Congratulations to my son Ian for managing something his father couldn't have imagined doing in his wildest dreams: he was awarded a varsity letter from Davison High School. In this week's award ceremony, he not only got awards for his scholastic achievement and for consistently following the "Cardinal Code" (i.e., he was well-behaved and that sorta thing) but, most impressive to me, he got the coveted Maroon and Gold letter for his participation in the Davison High Quiz Bowl team.
Ian usually gets all "A"s, but I think this is one time he's happy to be awarded a "D"!
Knowing Ian, if he sees this he will be horribly embarrassed and will hope like hell his friends don't stumble onto my blog. Oh well, our generation started the freakin' internet so he can just deal with it!
Anyway, great job! Way to go, Ian! Yer aging punker dad is proud of you!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Job for Me

Having spent over a year looking for a job, I was beginning to wonder if the only job for which I am qualified is price checker at a dollar store.
"How much for this picture frame?"
"One dollar."
"How much for these potato chips?"
"One dollar."
Until today, that is. I think I've found a second job at which I would be amazingly good. That job? God.
No, that wasn't some sort of exclamation. I mean "God" as in the job title. You know... I could be God. I just don't know where to apply or when the current holder of that position will be applying for retirement. He must, after all, be getting quite old and I would assume he would be eligible for Social Security benefits soon even under the new guidelines.
I got this brilliant idea while reading this morning's paper. There was a quote from an Anglican archbishop regarding a plane crash that occurred in Libya. There were 104 passengers. 103 died. The archbishop was quoted as saying "We thank God for the sole survivor."
Really? Can you imagine any other job in which one is metaphysically responsible for the lives of 104 people and - after 103 of them die - you still end up getting thanked? Talk about a job where the bar is set low! I can just imagine the performance evaluations: "Displayed a success rate of less than 1% on the recent Libyan air crash. Excellent work!"
Hell, I could do that! Time to work on my cover letter!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An Epiphany of Logic

While many people pay lip-service to the idea of logic, very few actually seem to apply the concept to their everyday lives. It may be argued that logic is spiffy for figuring out science and engineering-type things, but that it is not helpful in solving the stickier emotional problems one might encounter in everyday life. I would like to humbly submit a personal anecdote as a data point to provide evidence to the contrary.
First, a bit of background will be necessary. On Christmas Eve, 1963, I was a passenger in a car involved in a serious car accident. I was a young toddler at the time and these were the days before child restraints and safety glass. I was thrown through the windshield and received severe facial cuts which left some rather visible scars. As I've gotten older, these scars, while still noticeable, are somewhat less prominent than they were when I was younger.
As a typical teenager, I was self-conscious about my looks and was certain that some people would reject me because of my face. This bothered me for years.
One day, however, I had what I will call an "epiphany of logic". In other words, I applied logic to the problem and solved it. It went like this:
1. It is possible some people will, in fact, reject others simply because they have scars on their face.
2. Such people are superficial jerks.
3. Superficial jerks aren't worth having as friends anyway.
4. Therefore, not only are you not missing out on anything because they may reject you, it is of a positive benefit since it serves, in a sense, as a type of "filter". You can be assured that your friends aren't superficial jerks.
And the scars haven't bothered me since.
Logic. It works. Try some today!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Checking Out

"May I help you?"
The librarian looked at Jack, who was holding a book in his hand. Jack placed the book on the counter and the librarian started scanning it into the computer.
"'Deke', huh? That's a great book!" the librarian said.
"Yeah, I'd heard a lot about it, but I'd never actually gotten around to reading it." Jack replied.
"Yeah, Deke Slayton knew all the behind-the-scenes stuff at NASA. If you're a space buff, you'll really enjoy it."
"'Space buff' would be putting it mildly. It's more an obsession with me."
"Really? Me too! Say, I have a question for you! Everyone knows Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon. But who was the LAST man on the moon?"
A smile crossed Jack's face.
"That would depend on how you define 'last'. If you're basing it on the order in which they exited the LM, the answer would be Harrison Schmitt. If you base it on the order in which the returned to the LM, it would be Gene Cernan."
The librarian responded with an even bigger smile. The smile of a hardcore space nerd recognizing one of his kindred.
"That's pretty good! You know the controversy!"
"Yeah, and I'm not about to attempt to resolve it, either", Jack laughed.
The librarian ripped the due date slip off the printer and placed it inside the book.
“Okay. Here’s another one for you,” said the librarian. “Can you name the only person to be buried on the moon?”
“BURIED on the moon?” Jack’s brow furrowed in thought as he took the book from the librarian. “You’ve got me on that one!” he finally conceded.
“Astronomer Eugene Shoemaker. A vial of his ashes was placed on the Lunar Prospector spacecraft in the 1990’s. When the mission ended, it was intentionally crashed onto the lunar surface. Thus he’s the only person buried on the moon.”
“That’s fascinating!” replied Jack. “I know a lot of space trivia, but even I didn’t know that one!”
“Yeah. Not many people do. I guess some Native Americans were quite upset by it, though.”
“Upset? Isn’t that rather hypocritical of them?”
“Hypocritical? How so?”
“Well, around these parts you can’t even dig a foundation for a parking garage without inadvertently exhuming a half-dozen Indians! And they’re upset over one guy buried on the moon?”
The librarian seemed taken aback. “I think it was merely because some Native peoples view the moon as sacred.”
“Maybe to us palefaces parking garages are sacred! After all, if there’s anything white people worship it’s commerce and urban sprawl! But dammit, if a backhoe happens to nick the skull of some Ojibwa who's been moldering in the ground for the past 3,000 years we have to stop digging, call in an army of archaeologists and get some overweight guy with an Italian last name and one-sixteenth Cherokee blood to hold some ceremony where he flings about some corn silk and burns some alfalfa seeds or some shit like that while the white folks have to stand around somberly and pretend they give a flying fuck! In the meantime, the building of the parking garage is held up two years! Give me a goddamned break! We’re expected to kiss their asses just because they were careless in disposing of their dead and THEY’RE ticked off because we put one dead guy on the moon? I say they should just cut us some fucking slack!” At that, Jack spun around and headed for the library exit.
“I'm sorry you're having a bad day," said the librarian. "Your book is due back in a month.”

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


For anyone who grew up in Michigan from 1960 on, the news of the death of broadcast legend Ernie Harwell is first on their minds today. While certainly not unexpected, it is nevertheless a sad event for those of us who have loved (and occasionally loathed) the Detroit Tigers. Harwell's voice was an omnipresence in the Michigan summer. No matter how bad things were in the world, just hearing Ernie's voice was a comforting reassurance that somewhere, something was happening the way it was supposed to.
Far better writers than I will sing the inevitable and much-deserved hosannas to Mr. Harwell and I don't suppose there is much I could do to improve upon their words.
I do, however, feel compelled to add a few modest lines to the appreciation of his life and work.
When Harwell spoke, he described the happenings on the diamond with a clarity and emotion that rendered any television screen a mere gadget of inferior quality. But what really impressed me about Harwell's broadcast style was his use of silence. As composer Claude Debussy was credited with saying, "Music is the space between the notes." It can also be argued that great broadcasting is the use of the space between the words. Harwell, to put it plainly, not only knew how to talk effectively, but also knew when to keep quiet. He had an intuitive sense of the rhythm and cadence of the game and, unlike some of today's announcers, wasn't afraid to let the ambient sounds of the baseball diamond project their own eloquence. And by so doing, he increased the effectiveness of his words.
Like many people in the area, I have my own story of meeting Ernie personally. Like many of life's best moments, it was a random and unplanned event. It was 1991. My wife was a travel agent at the time and she would occasionally get free stays at hotels as a perk. We had one such night at the Holiday Inn in Livonia. We were getting hungry and had some time to kill and there was a shopping mall nearby. So we wandered through it looking for a place to eat. While there, we passed a nearly empty bookstore in which a sign announced Ernie Harwell would be signing his new book "Diamond Gems". And sure enough, there he was, sitting alone behind a folding table near the bookstore entrance. There was no way, of course, I was going to let this opportunity pass. I bought a copy of the book, which he graciously signed for me. Having him shake my hand and hearing him say "Thanks so much, John. I hope you enjoy the book!" in THAT voice was a thrill only a Tiger fan could appreciate. He smiled and spoke with such warmth it seemed he'd known me all my life. Heck... as if he'd known me all HIS life! He was truly a class act. Summers will never be quite the same.
And I feel sorry for my children. They may have their Wii and their computer and their MP3 players... but they will never experience a childhood summer infused with that voice. And they are poorer for it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Things Daughters Say

My wife, daughter and I were walking Lily the Special Maltipoo today and were talking about an acquaintance who was a vegetarian.
"Why is she a vegetarian?" my daughter asked.
"I think she really loves animals and doesn't want to hurt them." replied my wife.
"Well... I don't want to hurt animals, either..." said my daughter thoughtfully, before adding "but they're so darned tasty!"

Points for honesty, I guess!